As we were traveling with chefs who were intentionally searching for authentic culinary experiences, the island of Oahu provided plenty of opportunities. While there are many to choose from – here’s some vignettes on our favorites.
Crackseed Stores – there aren’t that many left in every neighborhood but for sure you can find them in Chinatown as well as the one we found near the Koko Head Café. Basically they offer pickled, dried and nutty snack possibilities. Most will allow a sample of this or that which we strongly recommend. We sampled and purchased pickled apricots and cherries to use back home in cut up in cakes and cookies.
But what really got us excited was the iso peanuts, arare/kakimochi crackers and li hing mui (dried salty plum) which were excellent table snacks during happy hour. They are all unique flavors and utterly addicting. We understand now why older generations fondly recall their visits to the corner crackseed store.
Poi – and we don’t mean the hummus-consistency dip. We’re talking about the poi flower donuts and sweets readily available in bakeries and even McDonald’s poi pie. We all know Hawaiians have a sweet tooth but the malasada donuts at Kamehameha Bakery near Pier 38 or any Leonard’s Bakery are justly world famous…..once you get past eating purple food! (Incidentally, we also saw poi English muffins in the grocery store and thought they would be fabulous but ran out of time to try them.)
On the North Shore you gotta hit the food trucks like Delice Creperie or Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa. And while you’re there, visit the butcher shop, VJ’s Butcher Block, on the corner next to the parking lot for out-of-this-world Uncles Lilikoi Ice Cream sandwiches. These passionfruit (there are other available flavors) are off the charts for flavor-popping decadence.
(In a pinch, we also found most of the options in small quantities in the grocery store snack aisle near the peanuts but we would suggest trying the real thing if you can. There’s nothing like having a conversation with an older Chinese gentleman about each flavored option.)
Koko Head Café by Top Chef Lee Ann Wong serves only breakfast and lunch of crazy local combinations like bacon pancakes with savory maple black pepper syrup or Stan the Flan Lee macadamia nut crumble with salted caramel sauce or Miso pork omelette. The half-hour wait is well worth it! (Tip: use the wait time to visit the crackseed store around the corner!)
Finally, we had timed our visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to allow us a leisurely lunch at the 604 Restaurant next to the parking lot. Absolutely splendid full-service bar and restaurant overlooking the harbor with a covered open-air dining room. Try the kalua pork nachos. We found all their selections and service top notch and weren’t surprised to learn it’s a regular hangout from the Navy and Air Force contingents just across the bay.